Learning How to Say No and When to Say Yes

Recently, while sitting in a family studies course I’d taken solely for an easy grade, my professor posed a question that made me rethink how I make my decisions in life. “Why are we inherently polite?” she asked. The lecture continued to question how politeness guards our true feelings and why our first instinct is to be kind, regardless of whether it is deserved. As I left the class that day, it became strikingly evident that more often than not, I make my decisions for others, rather than myself.

Being a woman, I’ve come to learn that saying “no” can sometimes lead to verbal abuse or degradation, but it wasn’t until that class that I realized how uncomfortable I feel using the word “no” sternly. I was always taught to be polite, and my responses have continuously been kind in nature. However, after much thought, I have come to learn that saying “no” is an important skill to have.

Despite many people refusing to hear the word “no,” it is evident that oftentimes, we are not completely clear about how we feel. Using words such as “maybe” and “not now” allude to the notion that your opinion can be swayed. Using the word “no” sternly is the only way to ensure your true feelings are expressed in all cases that you do not want to do something. This could be anything from lending something to a friend, attending an event, or even being approached at a bar. By disallowing yourself the right to your own choices, you are essentially transferring the power of your decisions to the hands of another. Why are we so quick to ponder everyone else’s feelings before our own? When did we start compromising our own opinions in order to be polite? And most importantly, who decided that saying “no” meant we were being rude?

Saying “yes,” on the other hand, is something that many people—including myself—believe they are good at due to the “treat yourself” lifestyle. However, after some serious self-reflection, I’ve come to recognize that I don’t say “yes” to the things I want nearly as often as to the things I don’t want. While there is something to be said about being a kind and selfless person, it’s evident that inherent politeness may be stripping us of our individuality.

Unbeknownst to me, I have been denying myself the things I enjoy for years, while also consistently making compromises for others. These things include indulging in “me time,” surrounding myself with like-minded people and being open to new opportunities. Instead, my life is often carefully filtered, edited and portrayed as perfectly as possible for those around me. When considering an option, my own opinions are the last to matter when I feel as though I must first question how people will view me. This has resulted in skipping events I wished to go to, not making choices based on what I really want, and consistently allowing myself to be put in uncomfortable situations.

What I’ve since come to find is that really “treating yourself” is far more than getting McDonald’s after a night out. It is allowing yourself the ability to make your own decisions based on what makes you truly happy. Why subject yourself to something you dislike or don’t want to partake in solely for the sake of others?

Learning how to say “no” and when to say “yes” has undoubtedly been an extreme eye-opener for me. Recognizing that I am able to be stern about my feelings but also allow myself the simple pleasures I enjoy has given me more inner strength than I have ever felt before. Additionally, by being able to differentiate between being polite and being genuine, it has become clear that allowing myself to be honest about my feelings has minimized the amount of manipulation I would have previously succumbed to. I also now feel more confident in situations where I must make a decision and have given myself more freedom to become the person I wish to be.

While it can be difficult, I encourage everyone to not only practice saying “no” sternly, but also to start voicing your feelings clearly rather than just brushing them off. I write this, not to eliminate the notion of politeness, but for us—as a population—to stop surrendering our own thoughts and opinions for others and to be unafraid to speak our minds.

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